Clad only in his uniform jersey and shorts during games at Williams Arena, Gophers basketball player Dusty Rychart was not able to insulate himself from the chill that came from hoops fans last winter.
Although he hails from Grand Rapids, Minn., Rychart was not given the hometown hero welcome afforded former and current teammates Sam Jacobson and Joel Przybilla.
“With the label ‘walk-on’ (the public) automatically thinks a walk-on doesn’t have the talent and ability of a scholarship player,” Rychart said.
But former Gophers coach Clem Haskins saw enough of Rychart’s potential after the northerner’s first year to award him a scholarship this summer. It is an award that Rychart looked at as both a relief and a responsibility.
“The scholarship takes that walk-on status off,” Rychart said. “But there is still a lot more weight on my shoulders; I’ve got to prove to everyone I do deserve the scholarship.”
Having something to prove is becoming a mantra for Rychart as he enters his second season at Minnesota. Coach Dan Monson from Gonzaga University was hired to replace Haskins in July, and the new coach has leveled the playing field for his newly adopted unit.
“Dusty has a lot of potential,” Monson said, “but like all the players on this team, he has a completely clean slate with me and everything he does from this point forward will determine his role with the team; be it working in the classroom, working in the weight room, and obviously the kind of effort and performance that he puts in on the court.”
Monson and his former team at Gonzaga got a good look at Rychart’s potential during the Bulldogs’ first-round game versus the Gophers in the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
Rychart turned in the type of performance that gives March Madness its lure, leading an under-manned Gophers squad with 23 points and 17 rebounds. While the game may have caught both Gonzaga and the general public by surprise, Rychart’s teammate Kyle Sanden was more nonchalant in his reaction to the dust kicked up by Rychart that day.
“I’ve seen him play and I know that he’s just got an uncanny knack for knowing where the ball is at all times,” Sanden said. “He doesn’t look like a great rebounder, but he’s just got a nose for the ball.”
The 6-foot-7-inch, 220-pound Rychart also gives credit for his rebounding abilities to Haskins, who taught his young forward to get position first and airborne in a second.
“Coach told me that if you watch, a lot of rebounds that people get are under the rim,” Rychart said. “It’s all about holding your position and getting there quick. If you get up to 10 feet really quick, which I can, you have an advantage.”
Even with a nose that puts him in the right place under the basket, and an express elevator-like ascent to the rim, Rychart knows very well that maintaining position in a conference reputed for mixing it up in the paint is the key.
To that purpose, Rychart credits his off-season weight-lifting regime coupled with his solid play in a “very physical” Howard Pulley Pro-Am league this summer with molding him for the upcoming season. The Howard Pulley Pro-Am league showcases Minnesota’s best local college, college graduate, high school and even professional players pitted against each other on hand-picked teams.
Rychart would like to have the type of season in 1999-2000 that earns respect for both himself and his teammates, a group he says “has a lot of guys with a lot of heart that are willing to give their all on the court.”
Now a scholarship player coming off his top collegiate game and a summer that has fed his confidence, Rychart is as strong mentally as he has become physically.
“I don’t have the skinny shoulders I used to have,” Rychart said.
With all he’s carried on them for two years, it’s hard to see how he ever could have.